While May 4th is known the world over as Star Wars Day, many also choose to extend the celebrations of the course of three days, with one of them being the “Evil Star Wars Day” of May 6th (as in “Sith”). This year, I’ve been using the three Star Wars Days as the perfect excuse to go plug a few holes in my Star Wars reviews.
Released: 18 December 2015
Director: J. J. Abrams
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Budget: $259 to 306 million
Stars: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford
Thirty years after the Galactic Empire was defeated, the galaxy comes under threat once again when the remnants of the Empire and the Sith rise to power as “The First Order” and begin constructing a devastating, planet-sized superweapon. With the New Republic decimated, the galaxy’s only hope lies in Rey (Ridley), a prodigy from a backwater planet, and Finn (Boyega), a reformed First Order Stormtrooper. Alongside crack Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac), they race to recover a long-lost map that leads to reclusive and disgraced Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and are hounded by the First Order’s malevolent and brutal enforcer, Kylo Ren (Driver).
It’s safe to say that the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy struggled to live up to the lofty expectations set by George Lucas’ original three Star Wars films; although relatively profitable ventures, the films were divisive, to say the least, and lead to one of the most beloved spin-offs in the franchise, Lucas was so burned by the experiences and backlash that he refused to make any further films. In 2012, Lucas sold his lucrative franchise to Disney for $4 billion and they immediately set about developing a series of spin-off feature films to further flesh out the Star Wars saga, spearheaded by a long-awaited seventh entry in the space opera saga. Although he consulted with Lucasfilm’s new president, Kathleen Kennedy, on story ideas for their new trilogy, he was hurt when they discarded his input and proceeded without him, bringing in J. J. Abrams to direct, contribute to the script, and help lay plans for the trilogy. In addition to bringing back as many names from the Original Trilogy as possible, Abrams brought in fresh, young, up-and-coming faces to be part of his new film, which relied just as much on practical effects as it did CGI to evoke the spirit of the films that started it all. Naturally, anticipation was high after even the most basic of teaser trailers, and the film’s $2.068 billion worldwide box office made it the highest-grossing film of 2015. The film was also met with overwhelmingly positive reviews; critics praised the film as a return to form for the franchise, the balance between nostalgia and new content, and even heralded it as the best Star Wars film since the Original Trilogy. Others, including Lucas, found it somewhat derivative, but Disney ploughed onwards with their Star Wars plans, for better or worse, regardless, producing two additional sequels as well as new videogames and spin-off movies to turn a profit from their acquisition.
I’d like to make one thing perfectly clear right off the bat: I’m a big Star Wars fan. Growing up, the franchise was something of an elusive enigma for me; my friends were huge fans, we all played the games and enjoyed the Expanded Universe novels, but actually watching the Original Trilogy was pretty difficult in the mid-nineties. Even when then the remastered versions were released, it wasn’t exactly cheap to buy or rent them, so expectations were pretty high for the Prequel Trilogy. Sadly, they largely killed off a lot of the excitement I had for the franchise; they screwed up or outright erased the Expanded Universe novels, replaced fun space adventure and action with wooden performances and dull subplots, and generally failed to meet the standards of the Original Trilogy. I was therefore glad when it seemed like we wouldn’t get any more Star Wars films, and extremely pessimistic when Disney announced the production of a new Sequel Trilogy. I found the first teaser trailer incredibly underwhelming as it showcased basically nothing except another desert planet and the return of fan favourites Han Solo (Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew/Joonas /Ian Whyte), and I was more than a little annoyed that the new films wouldn’t be drawing inspiration from what I still consider to be the “real” Sequel Trilogy, Timothy Zane’s Thrawn books (1991 to 1993). However, the secrecy surrounding the film had me intrigued and I was excited at the prospect of seeing how the Star Wars universe had changed thirty years after the Rebellion defeated the evil Galactic Empire. Sadly, The Force Awakens gets off to a bad start right from the opening crawl: Luke’s disappeared and, without him, there’s apparently nobody to oppose the uprising of the First Order. Consequently, Princess Leia Organa (Fisher), now a General in the New Republic’s Resistance movement comprised of new allies and former Rebels, sends her best pilot, Poe, to meet her old ally, the hitherto-unknown Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow in a completely throwaway role), to get information on Luke’s whereabouts to help turn the tide.
So, immediately, there’s a sense that everything that’s old is new again; I honestly thought this film would be a chance to see the roles reversed a bit and have the remnants of the Empire be reduced to a rag-tag group of ships and terrorists trying to strike back against the overwhelming benevolence of the New Republic but, instead, the Empire is essentially back in the First Order, which is somehow so powerful that it threatens the entire New Republic! Not only that, but Luke is gone, despite Mark Hamill being so prominent in all the promotional materials for the film, and his absence is another in a long list of misguided decisions by the filmmakers in this film and its sequels. One thing I found particularly aggravating was just how quickly everyone forgot important concepts like the Jedi and influential people like Luke Skywalker. Just like at the beginning of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (Lucas, 1977), the Jedi are all but extinct and they, and even Luke, have passed into myth because, apparently, thirty years is enough time for people to forget anything. However, I think a lot of people miss that it’s only been two years since Ben Solo sacked the Jedi Temple and drove Luke into exile. While I can understand someone like Rey, who lives a remote and isolated life, thinking Luke was only a myth, this seems to be the prevailing thought amongst many of the side characters and there’s a definite sense that Luke’s been missing for far longer than he actually has. One decision I do agree with, however, is the introduction of fresh, new blood to the franchise and I have absolutely no issue with having new protagonists take centre stage as it brings us such brilliant characters as Poe Dameron, a hot-shot Resistance pilot who is both completely loyal to the ideals of the New Republic but also somewhat reckless out in the field. Still, he’s not an idiot; when Kylo Ren slaughters Lor San Tekka and his villagers on Jakku, Poe is smart enough to leave the map he received from Lor with his trusty droid companion, BB-8 (Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz), but feisty enough to backtalk Kylo Ren (he even takes a shot at him in a failed attempt to save Lor’s life) even when he’s painfully left at the dark tyrant’s mercy. Poe’s reputation as the best fighter pilot in the Resistance proceeds him, and even Kylo Ren is impressed by Poe’s resilience; this, alongside his skills as a pilot and his defiance, is a defining trait of Poe’s but even he’s only able to escape from the First Order’s clutches thanks to morally conflicted Stormtrooper FN-2187. Excited at the prospect of a daring, action-packed escape (and at piloting a TIE Fighter), Poe jumps at the chance and quickly forms a bond with the desperate FN-2187, whom Poe nicknames “Finn”. Although Poe seemingly perishes in their escape attempt, he randomly turns out to be alive later in the film, leading to an emotional reunion on Takodana with his newfound friend, BB-8, and the coming together of our three new protagonists to assault Starkiller Base.
With Poe presumed dead, BB-8 is stumbled upon by scavenger Rey who, at this point, has no idea of her true heritage and believes that she was simply abandoned when she was a child (Cailey Fleming). Rey lives a hard life on the arid sands of Jakku, one that sees her foraging derelicts for meagre portions of food and living a life of solitude in the remains of an All-Terrain Armoured Transport (AT-AT). However, although she longs to journey to the stars, very much like Luke in A New Hope, she’s compelled to stay in the hopes that her parents will return for her. Self-reliant and strong-willed, Rey is something of a savage; she’s naturally paranoid and suspicious of others since she’s clearly spent her whole life fighting for what little food and possessions she has but does have an affinity for droids, which eventually causes her to fall in with Finn when he comes looking for BB-8 to honour Poe’s final wish. This finally gives Rey the opportunity to leave Jakku and she does so in style by piloting the dilapidated Millennium Falcon, which just so happens to not only be on Jakku but also the only ship available to them. Even more conveniently, Rey is not just the jack-of-all-trades but, seemingly, the master of them all; she’s able to speak multiple languages (including “droid speak” and Wookie), can repair, fix, and build machinery, is a naturally gifted pilot, and is also strong in the Force! It’s therefore not surprising that many have labelled her a “Mary Sue” since Rey just seems to magically be able to do everything because the script demands it and is quickly befriended by faces old and new alike. However, I don’t really have that much of a problem with Rey; sure, Daisy Ridley is the weakest of the main three actors for me and I personally found Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) a far more compelling female lead in Disney’s new Star Wars films, but I enjoyed her wide-eyed hero worship of characters like Luke and Han, her feisty independent spirit, and her overall presentation as a lonely young woman trying to find her place in the galaxy and realising that she has far more potential than she ever realised.
BB-8 is more than just the newest cutesy mascot for the franchise, it’s a whole character in its own right; since R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee/Kenny Baker) is in standby mode for the majority of the film, and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is mainly just a glorified cameo who keeps banging on about his red arm (that’s never explained onscreen and disappears by the next film), BB-8 takes centre stage as the main robotic character of The Force Awakens. Despite only communicating in electronic bleeps, it’s absolutely exuding personality; you can tell that it greatly cares for Poe as a friend and is saddened when it thinks he’s died), and is both suspicious and amusingly supportive of Finn when they join forces with Rey. As fantastic as it is to see BB-8 realised as a largely practical effect (I still have no idea how they were able to pull off its rolling movement so seamlessly), it’s a bit odd that many characters understand its “droid speak”, which seems to be a lazy convenience by the writers. This is paralleled by perhaps the most intriguing of the three new protagonists, Finn. Those who have watched Star Wars’ many spin-off media may be familiar with Clone Troopers and Stromtroopers having individual identities and (probably) consciences, but this was the first time we’d seen a Stormtrooper be anything other than a nameless, faceless minion for the heroes to gun down in cold blood. Inducted into the First Order at an early age and forced into war, Finn is no mere pre-programmed clone or mindless soldier; he’s a frightened young man in over his head who is horrified at the merciless slaughter of innocents and the First Order’s oppressive ways. Finn is desperate to escape their wrath but frees Poe not just because he needs a pilot but because it’s the “right thing to do”. This edict guides Finn throughout the remainder of the film; moved by Poe’s apparent demise and trust, Finn takes up not only his newfound friend’s jacket but also his mission to return BB-8 and the map it contains to the Resistance. However, conscious that he will be unfairly judged if he openly admits that he’s a former First Order Stormtrooper, Finn desperately feigns being with the Resistance i to quickly earn Rey and BB-8’s trust, something he’s clearly unhappy about but his absolute terror of the First Order overrides his doubts. He’s seen first-hand what they’re capable of, and what they’re building, and is focused only on getting as far away from them as he can by any means necessary, but is morally unable to simply leave his newfound friends to wage a suicide war against Starkiller Base without his expertise.
Another notable aspect of the film is new villain Kylo Ren; played with a magnificent imposing menace by the fantastic Adam Driver, Kylo Ren may look like a cheap knock off of Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) but that’s actually kind of the point and he’s much more than that. Considering that, beneath the imposing mask, he’s actually Ben Solo, Force-sensitive son of Leia and Han and grandson of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), it makes sense that he’d model himself after the infamous Sith Lord and the fact that he keeps the shattered remains of Vader’s helmet just goes to show just how twisted his perception of reality is. Kylo Ren makes an immediate impact not just with his emotionless helmet and deep, semi-cybernetic baritone that oozes menace, but also by exhibiting a command over the Dark Side that we haven’t really seen before as he freezes a blaster bolt in mid-air. Kylo Ren showcases a knack for forcibly drawing information from his victims using the Dark Side of the Force, penetrating their mind and feelings in order to both torture and manipulate them and learn what he needs, but he’s also an extremely explosive and unpredictable individual. Originally a Jedi prodigy, he was a student of Luke’s but found himself seemingly betrayed by his master, destroying the Jedi training grounds, and killing all but a few similarly inclined Jedi and recruiting them into his poorly defined “Knights of Ren”. Thanks to the influence of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), Ben is turned against his friends and family and assumes the role of “Kylo Ren” but remains a tortured and conflicted young man who lets his anger and insecurities get the best of him. Overwhelmed by these dark feelings, Kylo Ren regularly lashes out in volatile anger when he’s bested and is seemingly driven by an innate desire to destroy all remnants of his past, no matter how badly it pains him to do so.
The First Order is largely comprised of obedient Stormtroopers and extremist military commanders, just like the Empire, but there are a few standouts amongst their ranks: first and foremost is General Hux (Gleeson), the young and cruel-hearted commander of the First Order’s military forces. A proud and stubborn man, Hux believes whole-heartedly in the training standards of his Stormtroopers and the might of his military (he’s particularly proud of his ludicrous planet-destroying Starkiller Base) and delivers rousing speeches of hatred and vitriol in a pretty explicit allusion of Adolf Hitler’s public addresses. General Hux and Kylo Ren have a tumultuous relationship, to say the least, in which they both vie for the attention, and approval, of Supreme Leader Snoke; this means they continually butt heads over the best methods to advance the First Order’s cause and have a professional rivalry that borders on antagonistic since they have little respect or liking for each other. However, all in all, The Force Awakens really squanders some of its new characters; Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) looks visually impressive and intimidating with her striking reflective Stormtrooper armour and blunt commanding voice, but she does literally nothing except exist on the periphery and be easily coerced into helping the heroes infiltrate Starkiller Base. It’s not even more explicit whether she perishes in the planet’s destruction or not, and I have no idea why the filmmakers didn’t have it be her who confronts Finn on Takodana rather than a random Stormtrooper. Perhaps the most glaring and almost insulting inclusion in the film is the First Order’s malformed and malevolent figurehead, Supreme Leader Snoke; seeming to be a mutilated giant thanks to only appearing as an ominous hologram, this poorly-veiled stand-in for the far more enigmatic and memorable Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) irked me no end when I first saw the film and continues to vex me now not just for how poorly his story was cut off at the knees in the subsequent sequels but because he really wasn’t necessary to the films at all. For me, including another wizened, decrepit, malicious Sith Lord just took away from the agency and independence of Kylo Ren’s character. Once again, it was a case of the same old thing as a promising Jedi recruit fell under the sway of a dark influencer and pledged his fealty to this supposedly all-powerful Dark Sider and I just feel like characters like General Hux and Kylo Ren would’ve been stronger without this puppet master looming over them and allowed them, and Captain Phasma, to take the spotlight as the three main figureheads of the First Order.
After escaping Jakku, Rey and Finn conveniently run across old favourites Han Solo and Chewbacca; having lost the Millennium Falcon some years prior and returned to his smuggling ways, Han walked away from the Republic after Ben’s turn to the Dark Side, with Chewie in tow due to his unending loyalty. Where he was once a sceptical, self-serving smuggler, Han is now a jaded veteran who has seen more than his fair share of conflict and knows the extent of the Force only too well. Both he and Chewie take an instant like to Rey over their mutual appreciation of the Falcon’s capabilities and their piloting and mechanical skills, but Han is initially more concerned with retaking his ship than joining the battle against the First Order. He’s swayed to aid them, however, after seeing the partial map BB-8 possesses; he grimly relates a version of Luke’s self-imposed exile, omitting key information like his relationship to Kylo Ren (which is just dropped in our laps with little fuss of fanfare by Snoke), and leads them to Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o). This centuries-old sage very much fills the role of a Yoda (Frank Oz) archetype: she’s perceptive and wise, well versed in the nature of the Force, and even inexplicably has Anakin’s lightsaber, which Luke lost during his time in Cloud City. Han’s time on Takodana also reunites him with Leia after the Resistance fend off the First Orde’s attack; while Han is just as cynical as ever thanks to having lost his only son to the Dark Side, Leia remains the strong-willed beacon of hope that she always was. She commands respect from her Resistance fighters, who follow her lead without question and with unfaltering loyalty, and she also quickly forms an affectionate relationship with Rey. Her reunion with Han is one of both regret and joy; Han expresses remorse for all the wasted years he spent away from her, and (just as Luke did with Vader) she still maintains the hope that there’s good in Ben. Han promises to try and reach him, which ultimately proves to be his downfall; in an emotional confrontation, Han pleads with Ben to give up his crusade and ends up run through by Kylo Ren’s lightsaber in the troubled youth’s frantic desire to cut off all emotional attachments to his past. However, in his last moments, Han shows nothing but affection for his misguided son and, though it costs him his life, his sacrifice wouldn’t be in vain and would pay an integral part in Ben’s eventual (if questionable) redemption.
Despite my dislike for many of the decisions made in this film and the sequels, I do have to praise the script; character dialogue is especially entertaining, with the rapport between Poe and Finn being a notable highlight. It’s not just lines like Poe’s “who talks first?” line and Finn’s “I am with the Resistance” exchange with Rey that stand out either; BB-8’s hesitation at trusting Finn and then giving him a “thumbs up” is not only a sweet moment that influences the droid with more personality than I ever could’ve imagined but also extremely amusing, and little touches like Stormtroopers slowly backing away when Kylo Ren is losing his shit and cameos by the likes of Daniel Craig really help to elevate the script and even the most insignificant characters far beyond the stilted delivery churned out in the Prequel trilogy. Indeed, the performances are commendable across the board; the wit and banter exhibited is natural and amusing, Kylo Ren’s menace is threatening and imposing, General Hux is suitably over the top, and even Harrison Ford seems to be enjoying himself. Not only that but the film is peppered with little moments that help to I remember coming out of the film the first time I saw it and being won over by the character interactions alone; The Force Awakens was a breath of fresh air after the often wooden and awkward line delivery of the Prequel Trilogy, though don’t let this fool you into thinking that the actual plot is anything other than a shameless rehash of the best and most memorable aspects of the Original Trilogy.
Another massive positive of The Force Awakens is its visual presentation. The abundance of practical effects is greatly appreciated; the First Order Stormtroopers actually wear suits, there’s physical ships, sets, and locations for characters to get into and interact with, and even BB-8 is a wholly practical effect. While there’s obviously a great deal of green screen and CGI involved in the film, it’s nowhere near as noticeably as in the Prequel Trilogy, which makes everything much more enjoyable to watch as it feels like things are actually happening rather than being created. Even now, despite my many issues with the film and its sequels, I can’t fault the special effects; it’s pretty bloody cool to see Rey scavenging a crashed Star Destroyer and to see it buried deep in the sand, the Millennium Falcon’s exhilarating escape from Jakku is as thrilling as any of the other space battles in the film, and there’s clearly been a great deal of love and care put into recreated the “lived-in”, practical feel of the Original Trilogy to juxtapose the limited resources of the Resistance and backwater worlds like Jakku with the technological might of the First Order. When CGI is used, it’s presented far less like some PlayStation 3-era videogame and in a way that allows ships and creatures to seamlessly appear part of their environment thanks, largely, to existing alongside traditional practical make-up effects and animatronics. This makes everything feel much more “real” and believable as characters are actually, physically in a space and at the controls of their crafts, which makes the many space skirmishes and action sequences all the more exciting. Perhaps the only real downside is the baffling inclusion of the monstrous Rathtars aboard Han’s new smuggling vessel, an inclusion simply made to get Han and the others out of a bind that didn’t need to exist as calling Han’s issues with the gangs looking to collect on him really doesn’t go anywhere, but seeing all the classic Star Wars ships in action once again was an undeniable thrill made all the more commendable by them having imperfections and being presented faithfully to their original depictions abut augmented, rather than overwhelmed, by CGI.
However, I remain aggravated by the many allusions to the Original Trilogy that are peppered throughout the film; I enjoy nostalgia as much as the next person but The Force Awakens pulls so much from the first three films that it’s easy to see why so many found it derivative. Rey is a lonely girl living on a desert planet who dreams of the stars (just like Luke), there’s a mystery around Luke and the Jedi that’s almost exactly like Luke experiences at the start of his journey, and the First Order is just the Empire in new clothing as they pilot the same ships and are a malevolent and overwhelming force for the heroes to fight against. It doesn’t end there, though: Han’s confrontation with Kylo Ren is very reminiscent of Luke’s iconic run-in with Darth Vader in Cloud City, Poe hides a vital piece of information in a droid just like Leia did, Kylo Ren is introduced in a manner very similar to Darth Vader and even interrogates Rey much like Vader did to Leia, Maz’s castle very much evokes the same feeling of danger and debauchery as the Mos Eisley Cantina, and even the disgusting Unkar Plutt (Simon Pegg) isn’t a million miles away from Jabba the Hutt (Declan Mulholland/Scott Schumann). But perhaps the most glaring of all is Starkiller Base itself, a planet-sized weapon capable of destroying the New Republic’s core worlds in one shot, apparently regardless of where those planets are located in the galaxy. As ominous and dangerous a threat as the Death Stars were, those were merely the size of moons; Starkiller Base dwarfs them in comparison (because bigger is always better, right?) and is five times as dangerous with its ludicrously power and impractical main cannon. It makes you wonder how the First Order are able to aim their weapon; like, what if their targets are further away, or on the other side of the planet? And how in the absolute hell did the First Order find the time and resources to build such a preposterous weapon? It took the Empire thirty years to build the Death Star and, in less time, the First Order were apparently able to partially hollow out a planet, install all their machinery, and develop the technology to harness the power of a star all to destroy five worlds. Starkiller Base is not only far more impractical and far more immobile than the Death Stars, its power is also much more finite as surely it will eventually suck that star dry? And, to make matters worse, the First Order learned nothing from their predecessors and failed to account for glaring weaknesses in their doomsday weapon that allow a rag-tag fleet of Resistance fighters and ground troops to destroy it from the inside out (a victory that you would think would spell the end of the First Order but, somehow, they’re apparent stronger than ever in the sequel despite surely the vast majority of their forces being stationed on that world?)
However, The Force Awakens’ problems go beyond just banking on nostalgia; I can understand that, but what I can’t understand (and still can’t understand) is just how off the mark so much of its narrative is. As great as the new characters are the as heart-warming as the call-backs and attention to detail is, the execution is just so bafflingly off in so many ways that just caused a ripple effect that messed up the subsequent sequels as well. This includes annoyances like Kylo Ren’s unmasking not being saved for his confrontation with Han rather than being wasted on Rey’s interrogation, not getting a sense of how the galaxy has changed since the New Republic was formed, not seeing Luke training new Jedi, Han and Leia being separated, Rey’s origins being left vague simply as a sequel hook, and not getting to see anything of the last thirty years of these character’s lives. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, and it’s easy to say what they “should have” done, but I was restructuring this movie in my head within minutes after leaving the cinema. I would’ve had Leia and Han be together as supporting characters and highlighted their new struggles as politicians rather than freedom fighters so we could see them as new characters, rather than the same ones but older. I would have had Rey and Ben be cousins or siblings and Luke’s finest students and have Ben’s turn to the Dark Side be a gradual thing that peaked in the second movie. Or I would have removed Snoke completely and restructured the First Order so that Hux commands the military, Kylo Ren leads his acolytes as the “muscle” (maintaining their professional rivalry), and given more screen time to Captain Phasma as the front-line commander of the troops. I definitely would have had the First Order be a small, but aggressive, terrorist force that attacked key targets (and named them something a bit less obnoxious), and maybe had Kylo Ren seek out Luke’s scattered Jedi to kill or recruit them. I would have definitely made more of Finn being Force-sensitive and carry it through, possibly even at the cost of Rey’s Force ability, and absolutely would have changed the depiction of Starkiller Base! The focus of the film should have been on intercepting a vital component or power source for an unrevealed First Order weapon; we should see only the interior and glimpses of their hidden base and recruitment centre until the finale and Starkiller Base should have been saved for the third film as the ultimate threat. The Resistance could have then destroyed a factory or facility the First Order had overtaken, not built, on a moon for a similar finale. I’m okay with Han dying but I do think it should’ve been saved for the next film so we could get more screen time with Ben and Rey and just a better sense of why we should care that this random new character turned bad beyond him being Han Solo’s kid.
To be fair, though, Han’s death causes anguish not just for Leia and Chewie, but also for Rey, who had very quickly come to see him as not just an icon but a father figure of sorts. This only exacerbates her hatred and vendetta against Kylo Ren, who intimidated her, tortured her, threatened her newfound friends, and embodies all of the wanton destruction and evil of the First Order. Thanks to Han’s sacrifice, the shield generator around Starkiller Base is lowered, allow Poe to strike the thermal oscillator and set off a chain reaction that tears the planet apart; despite this, and being injured, Kylo Ren purses Finn and Rey into the nearby woods and a final confrontation goes down. Unfortunately for Finn, he’s not the potential Jedi the film leads us to believe he is and he suffers a seemingly devastating injury at Kylo’s hands; Kylo is then stunned when his attempts to reclaim his grandfather’s lightsaber are met with failure and the blade instead finds itself into Rey’s hands. Incredibly, despite having absolutely no training with the weapon and the unpredictable nature of her Force powers, Rey is able to more than hold her own against Kylo Ren, who is fascinated by her and the potential she has and attempts to sway her towards the Dark Sides. However, Rey is so incensed at Kylo’s actions that she angrily rebukes his offer and attacks with everything she has; Kylo’s fighting style is far more refined and deliberate and much different to other Force users we’ve seen so far. His lightsaber is styled after a traditional medieval sword and literally splitting with energy, but his movements are heavy-handed and fuelled by strength and rage, something he only exacerbates by repeatedly beating his chest and worsening the pain from his injury to increase his pain and anger. Ultimately, their duel is interrupted by the destruction of Starkiller Base but, while Kylo lives to fight another day, he’s left with an absolutely brutal scar across his face and the Resistance is finally able to complete the map and pinpoint Luke’s location. The ending then becomes this really rushed finale as Artoo is reactivated and Rey takes Hans place aboard the Millennium Falcon to confront Luke on the remote world of Ahch-Toh, where the film ends with an awkward stare down between the two. Personally, considering that Luke really wasn’t in the film at all, I think it would’ve been better to end the movie with the Resistance completing the map and save Rey’s trip to Ahch-To for the sequel as it really fell flat for me, despite how cool it was to see Luke as a wizened hermit.
I find myself conflicted over Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens. On the one hand, it’s a brilliant love letter to the Original Trilogy, dusting off all the familiar ships and characters and tropes that made George Lucas’ films so iconic. The use of practical effects is incredibly appealing, and the use of physical sets, props, and locations really helps to capture the same feeling evoked in those first films, before Lucas went all crazy with the CGI. The new characters are great as well; they all exude a great deal of chemistry and charisma and have a great rapport with each other. The friendship between Finn and Poe, and Finn and Rey, was far better and more believable than any relationship seen in the Prequel Trilogy and Kylo Ren made for a surprisingly complex villain who did in one movie what three films struggled to do with Anakin Skywalker. Equally, I have few faults with the dialogue and characterisations; even one-dimensional villains and periphery characters show some personality either through some snappy line delivery or a striking visual look, and BB-8 was a fantastic little droid to add to the Star Wars ensemble who managed to stand out as unique amongst its peers. However, on the other hand, there’s the sheer banality of the whole thing; at its core, it’s just A New Hope again, with elements of the other two films tossed in and weaved into the narrative simply to cash-in on nostalgia and familiarity. There’s no real sense of progression here; yes, we have fresh new faces, but the galaxy seems to be exactly the same as we last left it except that the characters we grew up idolising have gotten older, wearier, and largely walked away from their responsibilities. We’re told a few things about what happened in the interim, but I know that I, personally, would much rather have seen it or at least seen some indication of it rather than just falling back on a safe status quo but with a new coat of paint. I think that sums up my feelings on The Force Awakens quite well: it’s too safe. There’s no real attempt to try anything new, just rehashing what we’ve seen before and underdelivering on potential new storylines as a result, and it’s especially disappointing given how experimental and different Disney’s Star Wars projects would eventually become after their Sequel Trilogy failed to live up to expectations. It’s probably still the best of the Sequel Trilogy for me, but that’s really not saying much, and The Force Awakens continues to just be a huge missed opportunity to try something new that spiralled into a nosedive with the next two sequels.
Are you a fan of Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens? Did you find it to be a decent start to the Sequel Trilogy and how would you rank it against other films in the Star Wars saga? Which of the three new protagonists was your favourite? Did you enjoy seeing a Stormtrooper have a crisis of conscience? What did you think to Rey and did you find her a little too perfect as a character? Were you a fan of Kylo Ren? What are your thoughts on the use of nostalgia and did you like the narrative presented in the film? Were you shocked by Han’s death and annoyed that Luke was basically a glorified cameo? I’d love to see your thoughts on The Force Awakens in the replies below or on my social media, so feel free to share your opinions, good or bad, and thanks for joining me for three more days of Star Wars!
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